Following last week's blog, a friend wrote to ask my advice – “I’ve been writing for years, without success. Is it time to give up?”
Obviously that’s something no one else can answer. And equally obviously I’m going to have a try – which could be a definition of the difference between discussing and answering.
I believe that failure is one of the taboos of our society. One of the themes in Peeling the Onion, taken from my life, is how the protagonist, Anna, deals with her ‘failure’ to fully recover after her car accident.
And giving up is often equated with failure. “Don’t give up!” we encourage our children when they are trying something difficult, but ultimately within their grasps. “Never give up your dreams!” the self help books tell us as adults, when we are aiming at something that eludes us. No wonder so many of us find feel ashamed to even think of giving up, chucking it in, throwing in the towel…
A school counselor friend recently commented that pessimists had a bad rap. “The world wouldn’t function if it was all left to the optimists,” she claimed (which made another friend and me squirm, till we optimistically decided that we generally had enough pessimism to cope with life.) But it made me think: “What if we reframe the question about giving up? If something isn’t working, is it truly sensible or admirable to spend the rest of our lives being optimistically tenacious and determined (ie Never Giving Up!)
Because the problem is that time is finite. Okay, not in the Stephen Hawking sense of time and space, but the amount of time that we each have in our productive lives. So if we keep hammering away at one particular thing, and feeling that we’ve failed by whatever measures we’ve set ourselves – whether it’s friend & family feedback publication, or making a living from our craft – as well as battering our self esteem into the ground, we limit the time we have to explore something new. Something that might enrich our lives, give us joy, or even success. Something that might bring new possibilities we’ve never dreamed of, (including cycling back to the original dream in a new way.)
Would a better question be, “Is it time to give my dream a holiday, and explore new possibilities?”
Or, “Is it time to broaden my horizons and challenge myself in a totally new direction?” (I know I was facetious in another post, and said ‘brain surgery or sky-diving,’ but this time I’m being serious. Cooking, life drawing, pottery, music, singing
And the final question, “Is the pursuit of my dream is bringing me joy, or satisfaction in any way?”
If the answer is “No,” maybe it’s time to give it a rest. (I say ‘rest’ because taking a break from writing is not irrevocable, no matter how sincerely you mean it. You’re allowed to change your mind.)
Because life is mysterious, and we never know what’s just around the corner. Taking a break from a dream might just mean succeeding at life.